Difficult Questions

Posted by Brandon Steele on

Every week in our House Churches, questions come up that are difficult to answer on the spot and sometimes difficult to answer altogether.  This is a good thing.  I’m glad that we’ve created a culture where our church feels safe asking questions.  When we stop asking questions, we’re in trouble.  I also love that our leaders are comfortable saying, “I don’t know,” when a difficult question is asked.  There is something good about having to open up scripture and search for an answer; it stretches, informs and humbles us.

These are some of the questions that came up a couple of weeks ago in our House Churches that were left unanswered.  I hope these thoughts help you think through these questions, but more than anything, I hope that you spend some time studying yourself.  Don’t just take my word for it.  Study, read, pray, think and listen.  Make sure what I have landed on is true and consistent with scripture.

 

1)What is the difference between tempting and testing?

The book of James has a lot to say about these two words.

James 1:17-When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.  When we think about the word temptation, it probably stirs up a lot of different thoughts in us, but one thing is certain, it does not come from GOD.  Temptation is Satan’s scheme to separate us from GOD.  We see all throughout scripture that whenever the word temptation is used, Satan is directly connected.  Satan tempted Jesus in the desert (Matthew 4:1); Pauls warns the Christians in Corinth to be aware of when Satan is prone to tempt them (1 Corinthians 7:5); and Paul writes the church in Thessalonica affirming them for not being led astray by his tempting (1 Thessalonians 3:5).  The same message is consistent all throughout the New Testament, temptation comes from Satan alone.

The word testing is a bit more complicated.  Sometimes in scripture it explicitly declares that GOD has tested or is testing his people (John 6:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:4; Hebrews 11:17.)  When the word is used in this sense, we see the purpose of it in James 1: 3,4-you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

It seems simple enough, doesn’t it?  Temptation is from Satan and his purpose is to separate us from GOD and testing is from GOD and GOD’s purpose in it is to make us into mature and complete believers.  However, the word testing creates a little more confusion, because Satan’s name is also connected to testing throughout scripture (Matthew 4:1).   This is a safe, blanket answer when talking about the word testing: when GOD does the testing, its purpose is to draw us closer to him.  When Satan tests or tempts us, it’s to draw us away from GOD.

 

Does Satan ask God's permission to tempt us like he did with Job?

The passage that I think of is Luke 22:31 where Jesus says to Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.” Plainly stated, Satan is wanting to separate you (since the “you” is plural, we can infer that he is not just talking to Simon, but to all of the apostles) from Jesus and he has asked Jesus to do so.  The only other time in scripture that a similar request is made is in the book of Job, where the accuser (which has most often been translated, Satan) approaches GOD and three times asks for permission to test Job.  We certainly see through these examples that Satan has asked for permission to tempt or test people in the past.  However, we should not assume, based solely on these examples, that every temptation is requested by Satan and agreed upon by Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t make any explicit statements about Satan requesting to tempt us, however, he does make it clear all throughout scripture that Satan does and will tempt us.  He uses Peter to warn Christians in 1 Peter 5:8 that Satan is like a lion, prowling around and seeking someone to devour.  He warns the Church in Smyrna in Revelation 2:10 of the devils plans to throw some of them in prison.  From these verses, we learn a couple of different things about GOD and Satan: 1)Satan is in rebellion against GOD and his people. He wants to destroy our relationship with GOD and separate us from Him. Ultimately, he wants nothing more than to destroy us.  2)GOD knows of Satan’s plans.  There isn’t anything on earth or in heaven that GOD doesn’t see (Hebrews 4:13) or know about beforehand (Psalm 139:4).  Absolutely nothing sneaks up on GOD, even Satan’s schemes against us.  Because GOD knows beforehand what Satan is planning on doing, he always has the wisdom, authority and position to stop him. Nevertheless, GOD does allow Satan to sometimes carry out his plans.

 

In times of testing, how do you know when the testing is from GOD or from Satan? How do you discern who its from?

We understand this question by looking at the purpose of each moment or instance of testing.  If the purpose is to make us sin by creating separation from GOD, it is unquestionably from Satan.  If the purpose is to develop perseverance and maturity, drawing closer to and more like GOD, then we know its from GOD.  Let me use a biblical example to explain.

In Luke 4:1-13, we see that Jesus experiences testing at the hand of Satan.  Satan uses three different attempts to pull him away from GOD.  1) He temps Jesus to rely on himself instead of GOD.  2) He tempts Jesus to bow down to him.  3) He tempts Jesus to tests GOD, to see if he would come to His rescue in a time of danger.  In all three instances, the purpose wasn’t to draw Jesus closer to GOD, it was to create separation.  By getting Jesus to sin, Satan would lure him away from the Father and thus satisfy himself.

In Genesis 22, GOD tests Abraham to reveal what was in Abraham’s heart.  GOD commands him to take his son, Isaac, and to sacrifice him on an altar.  Right before he slayed his son, GOD intervened and stopped him from doing so.  The testing wasn’t to create separation between Abraham and GOD, but to draw him closer.   GOD tested the sincerity of his faith and the depth of his trust and once GOD was satisfied, he stopped him.  The testing only deepened Abraham’s trust in GOD and made him more aware of his goodness.

In most moments of testing, we need only to look at the purpose and determine if the outcome is to draw us closer or farther from GOD.  That should give us some insight into who is initiating the testing.

We also need to understand that sometimes both Satan and GOD use the same testing.  For example, if you are being tempted to lust, it doesn’t mean that GOD put the testing in front of you, but it does mean that you have an opportunity to grow in your maturity and increase your perseverance.  Satan is using it to separate you from GOD by having you sin and GOD is giving you a chance to deepen your commitment to him.

This is a complex question and it’s helpful for us to end knowing that throughout all of our testing and temptations, GOD is love (1 John 4) and that he wants all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2).  He loves us and wants to be with us and its with these sentiments in mind that we approach, examine and understand our testings and temptations.

 

Brandon Steele

Leader | Community & House Churches

 

 
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